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Wednesday, June 1, 2005

Trust tips

originally posted by John


As overworked clichés go, the tip of the iceberg is just the tip of the iceberg. Think of a topic, any topic, and the chances are that it’ll have an iceberg attached and its iceberg will have a tip. In terms of the trust space the tips of icebergs tend to congregate down towards the bottom left-hand corner where trust is highly conditional.

While the trust implications of clichés are fascinating and have kept me spellbound for more years than I care to remember, the trust implications of icebergs are quite something else. By definition they’re sinister, just as anything hidden is sinister. And the bigger the berg, the more sinister it is. The more sinister it is, the less the possibility of trust.

Some icebergs, although their precise extent is unknown, are nevertheless known to exist - the NHS computer system, Wembley Stadium, AIDS, climate change, WMD, ID cards, nuclear power stations, as I say, pick a topic – and the more we know of them, the less sinister they become.

Most sinister of all is the tip of the tip of an iceberg that we’re not even supposed to know about – the hint that something is happening that is so secret that even the merest knowledge of it compromises it. This particular tip of an iceberg costs US taxpayers $6bn a year simply to classify secrets - and the US government created 15 million secrets in 2004 alone. So that’s a six billion dollar industry, extending across forty-one agencies, classifying forty thousand secrets every day. Secrets that in their turn consume upwards of ten times that amount and generate ever more secrets in doing so.

Wow, some tip, some iceberg. Oh, and these figures - taken from a US Information Security Oversight Office report - do not include the CIA, the biggest iceberg in this ocean of secrecy, information on which, the report stated, ‘that agency classified’. How sinister might that iceberg be then?

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